Infest 2013:
Covenant/Imperative Reaction/Pride and Fall/Cervello Elettronico/Da Octopusss/Click Click/Sono/Chrysalide/Dive/Future Trail/Wieloryb/Inertia/As Able As Kane (AAAK)/Autoclav1.1/Metaltech

Bradford University, Bradford - 23-25 August 2013

"Infest will improve the quality of your life and wellbeing*"

I've been to Infest more times than any other festival.

As much as the annual August Bank Holiday event has a very relaxed and social side, it isn't a given I'll be going come whatever - I'll decide each year based purely on the band lineup. It's a testament then to the quality of those lineups that I've been to eleven of the fifteen Infests to date. Or, to put it another way, seen around 130 acts. That's incredible. Such has been the quality of the programming year in, year out.

For the uninitiated, Infest takes place over three days across a public holiday weekend at the end of August, on the campus of the University of Bradford, located slap, bang in the middle of the UK. It began as a mainly Gothic festival back in 1998 but quickly switched tack to become the longest-running (and frankly best) alternative electronic music festival in the UK. As with most years, the line up for this 15th anniverary festival included a good number of UK debuts as well as serving up a multitude of acts that even this seasoned gig-goer had never seen live before.   

Friday 23rd
Hailing from Scotland, Metaltech's white and orange, Kiss-style makeup (looking liked they'd been forced to drink way too much Irn-Bru), Sigue Sigue Sputnik-like wardrobe and three guitar lineup suggested to me that I wasn't likely to be very partial. They do the industrial guitar crossover thing that was prevalent in the 90s. And they do it in style. In spite of appearances, one cannot fault the standard of songwriting and the quality of musicianship on display.

I don't usually take to bands that do their thing either with tongue firmly in cheek or play it for outright laughs. However, Metaltech's presentational trappings were just those. A canny cluster of performance shananigans they use too; ensuring that once seen they're not forgotten. Even the deployment of party poppers and glow sticks into the audience and then 'shooting' the already busy crowd with bubble guns(!) only served to endear the band to the always up for it Infest revellers. The perfect act to open a three-day festival like this, instantly putting everyone in the partying mood and getting the energy levels up. Infest #15 was well and truly underway.

Metaltech setlist: Intro, Useless, Phenomenal, This Kiss, Slam Trance, Burn Your Planet, $ell Your $oul, Hammstein

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Photos [L-R]: Metaltech, Inertia, Dive

Second band on the first night were Inertia. If awards were given out for longevity and contribution to the scene in the UK, Inertia, formed in 1991, would have an armful. Creator and frontman Reza Udhin has, in recent years, earned rewards for all his years of hard labour by securing a regular position as live keyboard player for the legendary Killing Joke. His own band need little introduction to anyone familiar with the UK industrial scene. What's most interesting is that, since 2007 the band has toned down the harsh and heavy old-school industrial aspects of their sound in favour of something more melodic and keyboard driven. The results in their last few releases have made an impression on me much more than their earlier, harsher material - which I was often a bit indifferent to.

The current incarnation of the band works really well, and sees lead vocal duties more regularly being shared with Alexys Becerra, which is logical, as a female voice is well-suited to some of the newer material. For their more 'mainstream' sound this is a wise move. Reza was more energised than usual (which is pretty energised!) - constantly darting back and forth (a hang-over perhaps from those earlier, heavier days that seems impossibe for him to shake), and giving his now wider-range vocals all he could (though coming up flat a couple of times). The set focused mainly on recent releases, including last year's Universal Blood; whilst Anticulture from their 2010 Deworlded album really does nail their newer sound for me. Possibly my favourite Interia track to date. New song Dark Valentine opened today's set and convincingly develops their chosen direction.

Inertia setlist: Dark Valentine, Alive, Streaming, Monarchy Now (Falco cover), Feline Fantasy, Anticulture, Lies, Repeat & Follow

Dive I'd first seen live in 2001 - when they made their UK debut at that year's Infest. As much as I admire Dirk Ivens (and love his output under other guises) that performance did nothing for me. Nevertheless, 'legends' don't usually achieve that status without something of substance to back it up, so I secured a position right at his feet in the photo pit - ear plugs inserted in preparation. What unfolded was completely different from that 2001 show.
Whereas then it was fourty-five minutes of non-stop brtual noise, this time around we had loads of individual tracks, many not running beyond four minutes. What's more, the variety of style delivered up across this set was another big contrast to before. Tracks were clever constructions of few components, each having a clear role and purpose. Nothing superfluous, each part was key and counted. The over-bearing aggression replaced with more diverse range of emotions, resulting in a conversion for me from skeptic to fan. A most unexpected outcome.

Setlist: True LiesSinner, This Is Me, Bloodmoney, Power Of Passion, Broken Meat, Lost Inside You, Machinegun Baby, Dead Or Alive, Reported, Lies In Your Eyes, Pain And Pleasure, Sufferhead, Snakedressed, Blindness

Norway's Pride and Fall headlined the opening day. I followed their early career when they appeared with their take on the futurepop style prevalent around 2003. Back then I observed it was effective if somewhat derivative of their influences and my interest in a crowded market move on. Their last album, In My Time of Dying, saw release back in 2007 which didn't register. However, their new album (Of Lust and Desire) has just been released, which I have heard, and has a lot to recommend it. So, not having not heard their stuff for the best part of eight years - this sounded like a big step forward. I'm reliably informed (not least by the band themselves in an interview I filmed with them) that it is more of a natural progression than the leap I perceived.

Whichever it is, I was struck by the improvement across the board. Most crucially in terms of finding their own voice. Stylistic references I thought I could hear are, it seems, genuinely co-incidental. There was something decidedly IDM period Haujobb about parts of some of the new songs. Even Sigve Monsen's voice sounded a bit like Daniel Myer in mellow mode. Svein Joar Auglænd Johnsen chose to make the live guitar a bit more interesting visually, but playing it with a bow instead of his fingers, to some success. Not only did it look cool but it sounded great too. Seems I was generally behind the curve with Pride and Fall. They were named checked several times by friends in advance of the festival and over the weekend itself by people I was chatting to. Now I could appreciate why.

Pride and Fall setlist: Sculptor of Lust and Desire, Hollow, Inside, My Little, Epilogue, I Wither, Construct, Elements of Silence, Retrospect, Blood, encore: Omniscient, ExtinctionDecember 

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Photos [L-R]: Pride and Fall, AAAK, Wieloryb

Saturday 24th
AAAK, or As Able As Kane to give them their full witty name glory, originated in Manchester back in 1987. I was familiar with them from their original era but was never particularly into them. A proper band this, as in plenty of members on stage, all playing instruments you could clearly see were producing sounds you could distinctly hear. They were a feast for the eyes. In addition to the members whirling around on stage, their anarchic multicoloured, psychedelic visuals meant one's eyes and head were constantly changing direction to keep track of what was happening. All of which made me think of Uturns' stage shows.

What I liked most about AAAK, was there was something tangibly old-school about their sound and approach, but it was never retro or dated. Having rebuilt part of the team with some fresh blood, and perspectives, has ensured there's a contemporary urgency to their music. All meaning they are now in a position to fully demonstrate their distinctive qualites and capabilites to a far wider audience then ever before. A glance at their up-coming extensive tour bookings satisfyingly confirms that many others remember them from before and understand their relevance today. A nice sense of an act getting another opportunity to show their worth. I'm looking forward to seeing them again before too long.

AAAK Setlist: Buildingscape Beat, Trigger Finger, Ordsall Calling, Sweet Sweet Kiss, Brain Drain, Sharpshooter, Out Here, Tough Luck

Ever wondered what it would sound like if Satan were French and he started a digital hardcore/industrial act? Then Chrysalide say wonder no more. Most bands, particularly at festivals, tend to open their set with a couple of numbers they expect will grab people's attention, drawn them in and keep them there. Finishing strongly is also a wise tactic, so even if a band hasn't held my attention for their entire set, I tend to drift back towards the end to catch the last couple of songs in a set. As it happened, I remained for most of Chrysalide's set.

It seems no mention of these noise terrorists can go by without name-checking Skinny Puppy. Usually, in the form of, 'they're a SP knock-off', not bringing anything new to the table. I've never been a drooling Puppy fan, and believe that sometimes immitation can be the finest form of flattery, so perhaps that's why I liked what I heard and saw well enough.

An initial wariness prompted by the macho theatrical presentation of bare chests and black body make up which made me think back to seeing Project Pitchfork at Infest in 2010 (and being overwhemlingly underwhelmed by them) soon gave way to a captive admiration. Dismissers do your damnedest - but I enjoyed them. What's more, it was all topped off in memorable fashion with a hollering, if unexpected, cover of Pink Floyd's The Wall.

Chrysalide setlist: Who's Still Alive (intro), Traders Must Die, Noize Guerilla, Generation Screen, Since You Wear The Black Tie, I Do Not Divert Eyes, Anger Is A Show, Not My World, The 4th World War, All Guilty, Freak OutThe Wall (Pink Floyd cover)

Poland's Wieloryb (or the rather less intimidating 'whale' in English) were one of this year's representatives from the German power-noise Hands label. Today they're a male/female two piece. Whilst I like a few noise outfits (and have a personal preference for rhythmic noise), this male/female duo are full on power-noise, which often leaves me cold. "If you like Sonar and Converter you'll love this" said the band guide. I'd seen both referenced acts at Infest in the past, but didn't last more than fifteen minutes for each. The same went for Wieloryb. I'm not enough of a connoisseur to say whether or not they are adding another dimension to the field. I'll leave such judgements to others better informed than I. However, I did find out that their entire set was improvised on the fly. Or as member Ivon put it to me afterwards: "We don't play tracks by some setlist, we modulate our material on stage". Nice.

Wieloryb setlist: all improvised

Ah now, Click Click. After Covenant, these were the main temptation for this year. However, in complete contrast to Covenant (who I've lost track of how many times I've seen), this was my first ever Click Click gig, despite being familiar with at least some of their output since their debut in 1982. Whilst on Play It Again Sam in the mid-80s, they shared the stable with like-minded electronic experimentalists Neon Judgement, Clock DVA, The Young Gods, Front 242, Skinny Puppy and many others. Click Click are exponents of a particular version of electro-industrial. One that some have said makes them the electronic Joy Division. And that isn't as flippantly lazy as it might sound.

Adrian Smith and brother Derek are both founding members and still performing together. Tonight they are a two piece on stage: Adrian up front, ably supported by Derek banging on a massive drum kit behind him. Of all the acts in this year's line-up Click Click turned out to be the one I'm most keen to seek out their entire back catalogue from. Problem is, it's scarce. However, the band have plans to release their back catalogue digitally online and a new six-track EP on the reliable Dependent label is due for release on 18th November. Forty five glorious minutes which alone would have made Infest 2013 worth the trip.

Click Click setlist included: 3am, Rats In My Bed, Sweet Stuff

Big names aside, there's no question that French duo Da Octopusss (yes, that's three 's's folks) were for many the most anticipated band this year. Fulled by anonymity afforded by attention-grabbing full prosthetic Lovecraftian, Chuthulu-like tenticular masks, and a rapidly rising profile since they first logged onto Facebook at the start of last year, expectation levels for these two had been set, involuntarily or otherwise, pretty high.

Like many others, I first heard Da Octopusss' brand of dubstep/techno on their soundtrack to the Luc Besson-produced District 13. A listen to their latest stuff in the run-up to the festival confirmed they were still producing a big and heavy club sound, where HUGE bass was key to their impact. The thought of hearing this stuff live, delivered by two entities looking like they'd emerged from some undiscovered trench deep at the foot of the Atlantic ocean, was certainly tantilising.

As much as they delivered on their promise of bowel-quivering bass, and there was something indefinably satisfying about seeing them 'speak' into a megaphone and the noise coming out being an incomprehensible babble, when I come down to judging them purely on their performance, it left me wanting. Opinion afterwards was sharply divided. Some thought they were one of the highlights of the year. Others, myself included, were content to admit their
s was a surprisingly weighty sound for ones so squidgy-looking, but not a standout. I still want to believe Da Octopusss are Daft Punk indulging their alt. side. Well, have you ever seen both acts in the same room at the same time?

Da Octopusss setlist: Heller, Times, Madcowz, Evilminded, Traashh, Waters, Clock, Hellefant, The Bloop, Diss

Nominees of the 'biggest name that I am oblivious to' award this weekend were undoubtedly Imperative Reaction. They may have been headlining the coveted Saturday night but beyond the name there was little I could say I knew about them before watching them perform. They may have earned their prime slot, but I'm rarely partial to that rock guitars spliced with dance beats thing. I just don't do 'rock guitars'. You can sprinkle all manner of synthesisers and big beats around it but those guitars will always be rocking the lead. All too grungy, (and rocky), for my tastes.

Imperative Reaction's setlist: Intro/Side Effect, What Is Left To Say?, Judas, Giving Up, Only In My Mind, Functional, Surface, Giving In To The Change, Severed, Faded Into One, Closed In, Head Up Too High, Minus All, As We Fall, Collapse

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Photos [L-R]: Da Octopusss, Sono, Covenant

Sunday 25th

I mainly missed in part due to a very late start (after a somewhat heavy night before) and, in part, as I had an important meeting to attend to (I am actually working at these gigs, you know). There was something distinctive about Tony Young's blending of noise and melody when I first saw them at Infest back in 2006, so I was planning on catching them. Oh well. I did spot that Electronic Substance Abuse's Jamie joined Tony on guitar for the final song of the set. Although I wasn't gutted, since at least I had seen them before, a recent collaboration with Leaether Strip's Claus Larsen, on the track Scars, suggests Autoclav1.1's efforts are getting the wider recognition they probably deserve.

Autoclav1.1 setlist: Intro, Recent Conversation, All Long Black Spirals, Eisen Rostet (remix of Xotox's Eisenkiller), The In Road, Walking Walls, This Could Be You, Black Powder

Future Trail feature members of DavaNtage, who I know. Future Trail however, were one of the many personal discoveries this year. And quite a pleasant new aquintence they proved to be. New to me perhaps, but they've been around since 2001. Lead vocalist Mel Gúntzelsson is relatively new in post and she began their set by explaining that the line-up wasn't the usual one. Someone was missing apparently. Still, what we got was fully formed and delivered, no sense of anything missing. Which makes the prospect of seeing Future Trail again with their full compliment of staff one worth pursuing.

Mel reminded me of Anje Huwe of Xmal Deutschland and sounded like Claudia Brücken of Propaganda. This was 80s-influenced synthpop - but influenced by the more alternative/underground side of the genre. So if you like the idea of Propaganda's less bombastic moments then you should add Future Trail to you 'to do' list.

Future Trail setlist: Titan, Never Farewell, Breaking New Ground, One Time Focused, Monochrome Affair, Patience, Whisper My Message

Based on what I read in the festival programme (a reference to Grendel put me off in part), XMH were the only act I wasn't bothered about checking out, so I skipped them.

Sono were perhaps the most surprising act of the entire festival and, it seems, caught pretty much everyone off guard the same way. They were German. They were uber slick. They do techno-pop so smooth you can see yourself in its reflection. They began their set with the 2002 single 2000 Guns - which even now I cannot get out of my head. A terrific slice of pop. Singer Lennart Salomon asked how many in the audience knew of Sono. Few did. "So every song is a new song. This is a really new song from 2005!" he quipped before launching into A New Cage.

Comparing their performance here to footage online, it shows how much more beefy and energised they now sound compared with when much of their set was written (songs dated back to their start in 2001). They've a natural talent enabling them to slip in and out of genres with ease (pop, electro, techno, dance). Sono were the band that created the biggest "Where the hell did they come from?! And why haven't I heard of them before?" reaction over the entire weekend. Everyone I spoke to afterwards was impressed. So was I.
Sono setlist started with: 2000 Guns, All Those City Lights, A New Cage, Always Something Missing, The Brightest Star, Keep Control, Flames Get Higher, What You Do, Better, Blame, Flames Get Higher (Encore)

Hailing from Orange County, CA Cervello Elettronico were, for me, another of the key draws this year. Mastermind David Christian has been a big part of both the New York and West Coast underground scenes for the best part of twelve years. All the songs in tonight's set comprised unreleased new material (which will be out on Hands Productions imminently). They create the kind of looping noise that I can quickly tune into and zone out on.

Cervello Elettronico setlist: Impact, Down The Line, Instant Trauma, Vertebrae, Pulse, Brainwashers (Factory Slave remix - Sandblasting cover), Animalism, People Are Still People, Splinter
"Yeah you've probably seen them before... but I bet you can't wait to see them again" so speculated the festival programme about headliners Covenant. And, as far as 90% of those here were concerned, they were bang on. Recent times have been difficult times for Covenant. Even by their own admission. Founding member Joakim Montelius has stepped down from performing live (although he continues to write). Then Daniel Myer who had been a writing and performing member in recent years left last year. Last year the band reconfigured into a three piece live (with touring member Daniel Jonassen having been joined by Andreas Catjar) - all members once again Swedish. In spite of this turbulance, the most important thing remains their music. The release of their eighth album Leaving Babylon has proven that, if they're up for it, there's plenty of creativity still to come from Covenant.

I miss the character and voice of Montellius from their live performances and hope that him not appearing on tour is only a temporary situation that is soon rectified. Having immersed myself in their latest EP and the new album before this weekend, I guess I was expecting to hear more of the new material live. However, we only got the higher BPM numbers Prime Movers and the single Last Dance. Whilst this was, personally, a tad disappointing, it immediately made me conclude that they must have plans for a proper Leaving Babylon tour. I hope so as there is so much about the new album I'd like to hear in a live setting - if they have the stomach to give the best material on the album - the slow tracks and ballads - the chance to shine on tour. Everything firmly crossed.

In all my years of seeing bands live there are only a handful which almost every time you see them simply blow you away yet again with their performances. Covenant are one such act. Simonsson is like the proverbial captain guiding the vessel. With the two newer members still very much feeling like they've yet to properly become an accepted part of the crew (at least from the fans' perspective), it falls mainly to Simonsson to take the show to the adoring crowds. This he does with both his heart and soul. He remains one of the best front men live I've ever seen. Be thankful that Covenant exists. For without them world would be a less wonderful place.

Covenant setlist began with: Theremin, Call The Ships to Port, Prime Movers, Last Dance, Bullet

When I posted the band line up for Sunday on Twitter a friend commented that from the lineup he'd only heard of Covenant. I responded by saying that's part of what makes Infest so essential and rewarding. The organisers have a very clearly defined policy of booking a range of acts all gathering under the banner of alternative electronic. They're also the best festival in getting UK debut performances.

If you only want to listen to club music from your favourite bands, Infest probably won't satisfy your needs. If, however, beyond some killer headline names down the years, you're also up for discovering acts you've never heard before - hitting you completely out of leftfield (but there's a good chance you'll love), and you want to catch up with those cult legends you've never got around to seeing (or are too young to have seen first time around), then as far as the UK is concerned the only way is Bradford. Infest: it will improve the quality of your life and wellbeing*. 

*not subject to contract - personal results may vary

Rob Dyer

Infest 2013 YouTube Playlist

See also:
Infest 2012
Infest 2010
Infest 2008
Infest 2007
Infest 2006
Infest 2003
Infest 2001
InFest 2000
InFest '99
InFest '98